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Last round’s on me

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Rhys Alvarado serves up a Vesper Lynd, the drink that forever turned him on to cocktails. (Courtesy Photo)

So this is it.

The last round. Lights up, drinks down. It’s last call for me and my run with the San Francisco Examiner.

For the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of covering nearly 100 bars and restaurants in this city and told the stories of the people working “Behind the Stick.”

Before I scored the gig with the Examiner, I was an aimless
journalist, writing anything and everything under the sun, frustrated that nothing would keep my interest. Then the opportunity came to write the bar column. I ran with it. Or I should say drank with it. From the grit to the gold, I’ve got love for it all. From the dives of the Saloon, to the whimsical refinement of past bars like Big and their reincarnate Benjamin Cooper.

The bar column eventually became my identity. My brand of writing. The place that I could be found. I find it fascinating that this column has given my life direction.

In every interview I’ve ever done as part of this column, I’ve left with a little bit of advice for you, my readers, and also myself in trying to seek out my quest to try and become a San Francisco bartender.

I’ll never forget the time I asked Brian MacGregor at Wingtip what was the best advice he could give to young bartenders. He told me, “This is no overnight process by any stretch of the imagination. Go read a couple books. Barback for six months before you decide. Find a great teacher. And for the love of Christ, don’t go trying to create new cocktails. Learn 100 classics first. Then we can start talking creation.”

Or hanging with San Francisco historian and Encanto Pisco owner Duggan McDonnell, who educated me on the rich history of cocktails in The City. The Pisco Punch will always be San Francisco’s official cocktail in my book.

Or the time Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods and the Interval told me to kick the shots of Fernet and Pabst and expand my palate by trying something new everytime.

Or the time I followed around liquor rep Scott Ellis for a day and he told me that, as crazy as it sounds, he was trying to make the world a better place by giving
people something
better to drink. That’s the same gospel I’m trying to preach.

I was asking those questions because I thought they were interesting. But really, I was asking them for myself.

My epiphany cocktail moment came early in writing this column at the Burritt Room on the second floor of the Mystic Hotel. That place that you only know if you know it’s there. Josh Trabulsi’s Vesper Lynd took me away. Trabulsi’s cucumber vermouth was a subtle touch on a classic. Something about its simplicity within its complexity resonated with me, and while reflecting on my old fashioned ways, the drink reminded me of myself.

With enough drinks and the persistence to ask him for a barbacking gig, he eventually gave it to me. After a year, he made me a bartender. Now I’m his right-hand man, stirring that same Vesper Lynd, trying to make people believe as he once made me.

All in all, those who I’ve had the pleasure of writing about have in some way served as a mentor to me. And I’m forever grateful.

I’ve spent the past three years asking people to share their stories of working behind the bar, and they’ve served as beacons of how I should go about mine.

I’ve found my place.

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